Essay by Anonymous UserHigh School, 11th gradeB-, January 1996

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The issue of slavery has been touched upon often in the course of

history. The institution of slavery was addressed by French

intellectuals during the Enlightenment. Later, during the French

Revolution, the National Assembly issued the Declaration of the Rights of

Man, which declared the equality of all men. Issues were raised

concerning the application of this statement to the French colonies in

the West Indies, which used slaves to work the land. As they had

different interests in mind, the philosophes, slave owners, and political

leaders took opposing views on the interpretation of universal equality.

Many of the philosophes, the leaders of the Enlightenment, were

against slavery. They held that all people had a natural dignity that

should be recognized. Voltaire, an 18th century philosophe, pointed out

that hundreds of thousands of slaves were sacrificing their lives just so

the Europeans could quell their new taste for sugar, tea and cocoa.


similar view was taken by Rousseau, who stated that he could not bear to

watch his fellow human beings be changed to beasts for the service of

others. Religion entered into the equation when Diderot, author of the

Encyclopedia, brought up the fact that the Christian religion was

fundamentally opposed to Black slavery but employed it anyway in order to

work the plantations that financed their countries. All in all, those

influenced by the ideals of the Enlightenment, equality, liberty, the

right to dignity, tended to oppose the idea of slavery.

Differing from the philosophes, the political leaders and

property owners tended to see slavery as an element that supported the

economy. These people believed that if slavery and the slave trade were

to be abolished, the French would lose their colonies, commerce would

collapse and as a result the merchant marine, agriculture and the arts...